Byron, Philhellenism in Literature, the Arts, and Scholarship

Friday 10 – Saturday 11 December, King’s College London

In honour of Roderick Beaton, Emeritus Koraes Professor of Modern Greek and Byzantine History, Language and Literature

Including a celebratory reception and book launch of Roddy Beaton’s 2021 book The Greeks: A Global History

Musical Performance on the evening of 11 December 2021


Echoes of the Greek Revolution

David Ricks, King’s College London, ‘Haunted by Missolongi: Two Poets Rewrite Their Homeland’

Missolonghi is for Greeks sacred ground, and for Greek poets ground guarded always by the shade of Solomos and The Free Besieged, not to mention a host of lesser poems—and haunted, too, of course, by the figure of Byron. How much more so for those poets who have grown up in this small provincial town with its imposing role in Greek national sentiment. This paper explores how two near-contemporaries from Missolonghi sought in their maturity ways to recreate the place in poems which take a more oblique stance in relation to history and to the poet’s vocation. The paper will compare a collection by a poet taking time off from being national poet in a straightforward sense (Kostis Palamas [1859-1943), Οι καημοί της λιμνοθάλασσας [1912]) with a rather different collection inspired by Missolonghi, the work artful poet of minor ambitions (Miltiadis Malakasis (1869-1943), Τα Μεσολογγίτικα [1920]).

David Ricks is Professor Emeritus of Modern Greek and Comparative Literature, King’s College London, and a Fellow of the College. He studied classics and philosophy at Oxford before coming to King’s to write a doctoral thesis, on what would today be called classical reception, under the supervision of then Koraes Professor Roderick Beaton. The two worked in harness at King’s from 1989 to 2018, supervising between them 39 doctoral students in the fields of modern Greek literature and culture, no few of them now established in the republic of letters. David Ricks co-founded the CHS journal Dialogos (1994-2001) and served for many years on the board of the journal Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies, first edited from King’s by Donald Nicol; since 2020, he has been its editor, with Ingela Nilsson (Uppsala). He has published on many facets of poetry in Greek, from Digenes Akrites and Erotokritos in earlier periods to a wide range of poets from the last two centuries. These include such major figures as Solomos and Kalvos from the Revolutionary period, Cavafy and Sikelianos in the twentieth century, and Nasos Vayenas and Michalis Ganas today.

Maria Karaiskou, University of Crete, ‘Lord Byron and His Fictional Reflections in Modern Greek Historical Novels about the Revolution of 1821 (c. 1835-2010)’

This paper focuses on modern Greek historical novels related to the revolution of 1821 that either present Lord Byron as a historical character (e.g., S. Xenos, Η ηρωίς της ελληνικής επαναστάσεως, 1861; I. Zourgos, Αηδονόπιτα, 2008) or refer to fictional philhellenes in which one may discern Byron’s ‘shadow’ (S. Sheridan Wilson, Το παλληκάριον, 1835; A. Vlachos, Ένας φιλέλλην για το 1821, 1972). The elements that constitute the fictional myth of Byron will be explored in comparison with its respective constructions in modern Greek poetry, the arts (painting), as well as in historical discourse. Moreover, given that the novels under examination stem from different periods in the history of modern Greek literature, the development of the image of the English philhellene — for whom Lord Byron stands as an archetype—will be examined in relation to the general historical and cultural context of the era in which each of these novels was written.

Georgia Farinou-Malamatari, ‘E. F. Benson: A Belated Philhellene’

This paper will discuss the presence of the prolific, bestselling, and colourful E. F. Benson (1867-1940) in Greece during the 1890s (as an archaeologist, friend of the Palace, Honorary Commissioner of the Grosvenor House for the relief of Thessalian refugees). It will be focused on Benson’s literary output concerning Greece (novels, short stories, travelogue), particularly on The Vintage and Capsina, two novels on the Greek War of Independence. The former was translated and published simultaneously in instalments under different titles in the two main Greek newspapers (Acropolis and Asty), to serve as an antidote to the national depression caused by the ‘Unfortunate War’ (1897).

Maria Nikolopoulou, Modern Greek Language and Literature, University of Athens: ‘The Philhellenes at the Turn of the 21st Century’

This paper will focus on novels that appeared shortly after the turn of the 21st century and focused on the Greek War of Independence or its preparatory period and the relations of philhellenes with the Greeks of the time. Indicatively, among these novels are: To ρολόι της σκιάς by Thomas Skassis, 2004; Αηδονόπιτα by Isidoros Zourgos, 2008; and Γεζούλ by Niki Marangou, 2010. These novels explore Greece’s complex relationship with the West, the impact of antiquity, enlightenment and orientalism, and the fluidity of identities in the early nineteenth century. These novels also employ different techniques, from more realistic narrative to historiographic metafiction, to present a nuanced image of philhellenism and national discourses.

Maria Nikolopoulou belongs to the Laboratory and Teaching Staff of the Department of Philology at the National and Κapodistrian University of Athens. She studied Classics at the same university and subsequently obtained an MA and a PhD degree in Modern Greek Literature from the Department of Modern Greek Studies at King’s. She was a Regional Associate Fellow of the Nexus Project ‘How to Think about the Balkans’, run by the Centre for Advanced Study, Sofia (2002), and a Fellow in the research project ‘Women’s Literary and Artistic Activity in Greek Literary and Art Periodicals: 1900-1940’, run by the Athens School of Fine Arts (2005-7). She was a Fellow in Comparative Cultural Studies of Harvard University’s Center for Hellenic Studies in Greece (2020-2021). She has taught European and Modern Greek Literature at the University of Patras and at the Greek Open University as an associate lecturer. Her research interests include the reception of women’s writing, the role of literature in the construction of memory of historical events, the role of periodicals in the history of ideas and the post-war avant-garde.

The Lives and Times of Greek Writers

Sarah Ekdawi, ‘The Sixtieth Year of his Life: Cavafy Confronts Mortality and Posterity’

Cavafy is often said to have had two ‘watershed’ years: 1903 and 1911. In 1903, he reached the age of 40 and conducted a ‘scrutiny’ and purge of his work, culminating in a first printed collection (Poems 1904). In 1911, aged 48, he is generally believed to have found his mature voice. I shall argue that there was a third significant year, 1923, in which Cavafy radically altered his working practice as he set about preparing for his death and for his afterlife as a major European poet. 

Sarah Ekdawi is a Faculty Research Fellow at the University of Oxford and the Reviews Editor of Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies. She was among Roddy’s first students at KCL, where she wrote her BA dissertation on Cavafy’s erotic poems while Roddy was working on his seminal article on the historical poems. Following a bizarre graduation ceremony at the Albert Hall, which involved bowing or curtseying to a man representing Princess Anne, teacher and student engaged in a humorous debate about the uses of degrees in Modern Greek. Neither of them imagined it would eventually lead to an honorary doctorate and visiting professorship in Thailand. Between the London and Bangkok chapters of her life, Ekdawi followed a more conventional career path, gaining a D.Phil at Oxford in 1991, with a thesis entitled ‘The Poetic Practice of Anghelos Sikelianos’, and going on to become a postdoctoral research fellow and visiting lecturer at the Queen’s University of Belfast. Her publications include studies of Cavafy, Sikelianos, Ritsos, sixteenth century Cypriot sonnets and the Byzantine heroic romance of Digenis Akrites. She is also a qualified technical translator and practising literary translator.

Nikos Falagkas: ‘George Seferis, the Rowing and the Angel: Biographies of a Poet’

In 1951 George Seferis had famously protested against the citation by the critic Timos Malanos of the letters he had sent him. Seventy years later the constant interest in Seferis’ life had led to the publication of more than fifteen volumes of his correspondence, eleven volumes of his diaries and two biographies: one in French in 1985 by Denis Kohler and the other in English in 2003 by Roderick Beaton, which was translated in Greek and became a bestseller. The two biographies highlight different periods of Seferis’ life and propose rather complementary views especially on Seferis’ years of formation. A comparison between them shows how the two alternative narratives are largely shaped by the choice of different excerpts from the poet’s essays, letters, diaries and from archival material. 

Nikos Falagkas is an Associate Lecturer at the Hellenic Open University. He has published on private diaries and life writing, George Seferis, the Modern Greek short story, twentieth-century Greek novels and literary disability studies. His PhD thesis on the Modern Greek private diary was supervised by Professor Roderick Beaton.

Sophia Voulgari, Democritus University of Thrace, ‘Miracles and Tragedies: Re-inventing Greekness in Times of Crisis’

This paper will provide a critical overview of the conceptualizations of Greek history and modern Greek identity during the financial crisis and amidst the Covid-19 pandemic, focusing on Yiannis Kiourtsakis’ recent book The Miracle and the Tragedy (2020), and the ways in which it echoes Seferis’ cultural programme of a ‘Greek Greekness’. The critical conditions of the last decade have created a state of emergency that has in turn necessitated a re-examination of Greek culture and its relation to Europe, a need to retrace the evolution of the modern Greek state as a hybrid entity, oscillating between the miracle and the tragedy. 

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